New Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett fielded a few questions from Patch on Tuesday, the day after his fellow city commissioners elected him to the top job. The first installment of the interview ran Friday.
When I talked to Bill Floyd he said he thinks the city should go to a popularly elected mayor. What do you think?
This issue is not new. It comes up every number of years, every few years it comes up again. I have not been in favor of it the entire time I’ve been on the city commission.
The first time it came up … Bill wasn’t even mayor. I was the one person who represents at large. So the proposal was that the at-large seat be the mayor’s seat and that way be elected by the city. Really Bill’s idea was to do that, too. So there was a time back there when if it was done I could have been in the best position of anybody in the city to lay claim to that and be the popularly elected mayor. …
Last night, those commissioners, they’re taking a chance on me, but they know it’s only a one-year chance. If I screw up, if I embarrass them, if I’m not working as a team player, then they only have to put up with it until next January and they can make a change. And the people out there ought to feel good about that because they know if I screw up they can talk to their representative on the commission and make a change next January.
If you elect a mayor for four years, you have to put up with whatever it is they do, and that might be good, it might be bad, you don’t know. But one thing’s for sure. Typically in the course of an election where there’s heated competition, promises would be made, agendas would be set, and then that person would come into office with a whole list of things that he’s going to deliver on, he or she, and it doesn’t matter what the other commissioners think about those. ...
The way we have it now we work as a team. We all work as a team. Nobody has an agenda that they personally can drive. They’ve got to get two more votes all the time. … We can’t even get an item on an agenda by just saying I want so and so item on the agenda. Peggy [Merriss, the city manager] sets the agenda, and unless she’s hearing from more than just ne person and unless there’s a very good reason for that item to be on the agenda, it may not be there.
People say, well, everybody else does it. But where else do they have as good and respectful a government as we have. Just look around you. That’s the way I look at it.
Your term expires in 2015. Do you think you’ll stay in office beyond that?
I never thought I would be in office this long. I have made statements in the past about, well, [I'm] probably done here and only to see circumstances that were unforeseen to me changed. I never thought I would run for this cycle because I was wanting to spend more time with my grandson, wanting to go fishing more, wanting to do a lot of thing more, and I thought I had run my course and done pretty much what I was going to accomplish on the commission.
Then we folded up our business and all of sudden I had more time to devote tot this than I ever had, and I thought it might be really interesting to see how I could do at this job when I had more time to devote to it. At the same time, Bill started making noise about maybe he was going to retire and I’m thinking, well, that’s a different circumstance.
So between all these different circumstances and then nobody stepping forward to say I’ve got this burning desire to be the at-large commissioner, I ran again. I made a new commitment, and I talked to the other commissioners about this. I know I let my service drag a little bit, as you tend to do if you’re a lame duck or see yourself as a lame duck, and so I had to make a commitment to get more energized and to do more and work harder.
I’ve done that this year. I don’t know if you noticed but I worked all year on the zoning task force and I worked a good part of the year on trying to work with the neighbors and the developer on that Clairemont property.
I think that I’ve indicated that I’ve got the time now to spend with this and I intend to do it. The bottom line answer to your question is that I’m not going to talk about three years from now this early. I’m just getting used to the notion that I’m gong to serve as mayor for a little while and how that’s going to go.
Any thing you want to tell people that I haven’t asked?
I don’t think things will change very much in Decatur. I worked a long time with Bill I respect him greatly and appreciate his leadership and style but we worked together, all of us worked together on most everything that was done, so there’s no reason to believe there will be a significant change in the way things are done going forward.